Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, December 11, 2017

New talk about a new marijuana legalization initiaitive in Ohio from some old voices

As reported in this local article, headlined "Anyone over 21 could grow weed at home under proposed Ohio ballot initiative," there is some new talk about a new initiative to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State. Here are the details:

A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue to fully legalize marijuana.

Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation. Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio's current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician's recommendation.

Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018. Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio.

He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio's failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and non-medical use. The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting "no" to recreational and medical marijuana.

But the new proposal "is as different from Issue 3 as night and day," Gould said. "We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.'' Gould said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.

In addition, the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that Gould blames for Issue 3's ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown. Critics charged the stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers. "The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this," Gould said.

Gould said another reason he thinks now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative is that "a lot of time has gone by" since Issue 3 was defeated, and more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana based on studies, opinion polls and the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years....

Gould said his new ballot initiative would "run parallel" to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied "Level 1" licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.

The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process and the use of questionable application graders, including one who was a convicted drug dealer. "That stuff is just not OK," Gould said. "Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks" on the application graders.

I am tempted to not take this new talk of a new initiative all that seriously because right now it seems a bit like the expression of sour grapes (sour weed?) based on the failure of Gould to get a state "Level 1" license. But Gould and his team were able to get a (poorly conceived) initiative to the voters back in 2015, and maybe they really want to and really can do it again in 2018.

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new report from Tom Angell under the headline "Will Legalize Marijuana In Early January, House Speaker Says." Here are the details:

A top Vermont lawmaker says the state could become the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.  “It will be up for a vote in early January,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said on Friday. “I expect that it likely will pass in early January.”

In 2017, the state fell just short of enacting legalization. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support.  The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.

Because the legislature operates on a biennial basis, the bill is still alive, and the House just needs to take one more vote to get the bill onto the governor’s desk.  Last week, Scott said he is “comfortable” signing a marijuana legalization bill into law early next year.

Johnson, in the Friday interview with Vermont Public Radio, said there “hasn’t been a significant shift” in support in the legislature since the momentum for legalization that built up earlier this year. “We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says,” she said....

Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization....

Johnson, in the new interview, said the commission “will provide some suggestions for further action,” such as potentially legalizing and regulating cannabis sales. “We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible,” she said.

I was disappointed by the veto of the marijuana reform bill that Vermont's legislature passed last year in large part because I think it could be extremely valuable, to both policy-makers and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization. Now I am excited anew that this distinctive approach to marijuana legalization may still soon become law in the Green Mountain State.

In the article linked above, Tom Angell notes that marijuana reform advocates have been watching New Jersey closely as a state that might in early 2018 enacted marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative process. For various reasons, I think action in New Jersey becomes even more likely if Vermont becomes the first state to legalize through the usual legislative process.

A few prior related posts from May 2017:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Useful reminder of a prior era of marijuana decriminalization

Time magazine has this notable new article authored by Emily Dufton about an underappreciated bit of marijuana history. The piece is headlined "U.S. States Tried Decriminalizing Pot Before. Here's Why It Didn't Work," and here are excerpts:

Between 1973 and 1978, a dozen states decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.  Pro-pot activists, many of them young veterans of the anti-war and civil-rights movements, argued that marijuana wasn’t as harmful as the government said it was, and that laws against it were unjust.  In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, they built on America’s growing distrust of the government to pass less restrictive marijuana laws at the state level.  It worked: by 1978, a third of the country lived in states where marijuana possession warranted little more than a fine.

But a multi-million dollar paraphernalia industry followed in decriminalization’s wake.  By 1977, sales of pipes, bongs, rolling papers and drug-oriented magazines and toys were generating $250 million a year (equivalent to $1 billion today).  There was little to no regulation or oversight on this booming new industry, however.  Products that seemed directly targeted to kids — including Frisbees with pipes on them and bongs shaped like spaceships — were sold openly, often in corner shops and music stores.

Before long, a counterrevolution unfolded, as an army of concerned parents tied paraphernalia’s availability to rising rates of adolescent marijuana use.  By 1978, nine percent of high school seniors reported smoking pot every day, and children as young as 13 reported that the drug was easy to get.  The “parent movement” sought to close “head shops” and rescind decriminalization laws, while organizing local groups to prevent adolescent drug use in their communities.

By 1981, the parent movement had effectively overturned many state decriminalization laws, and soon it was guiding the new First Lady in her battle against pot. Unpopular when her husband first took office, Nancy Reagan was encouraged by parent activists to adopt adolescent drug-abuse prevention as her platform, and her approval ratings skyrocketed in response.  Despite decreasing rates of adolescent use, Reagan and parent activists continued to declare that adolescent marijuana use was nothing less than a “national emergency.”  This emphasis on the danger of adolescent drug use helped fuel the administration’s punitive drug war, especially when new laws were passed in the wake of the crack cocaine epidemic in 1986.

With the White House behind them, it took less than a decade for parent activists to demonize marijuana nationwide.  These activists were powerful because of how effectively they shifted the debate.  Whereas pro-marijuana advocates supported decriminalization on the basis of an adult’s right to privacy and freedom, parent activists said that children had a more important right to grow up drug-free.  And though many Americans supported decriminalization in the 1970s, once rates of adolescent use started to rise, and when paraphernalia manufacturers sold items to kids, the country’s attitude toward marijuana experienced a swift reversal.

December 7, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Looking into challenges facing communities of color in the marijuana industry

The final student presentation this year in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is looking at how communities of color are participating in the marijuana industry. Specifically, as the student has put it, the topic involves "an exploration of the hurdles communities of colors face when trying to break into the marijuana industry, and a discussion of the policy considerations we ought to engage when developing a framework for this new and emerging industry." Here are links for background reading on this topic:

Drug Policy Alliance, "Race and the Drug War"

"Rigged game: inequality on the rise in legal pot industry; How people of color are blocked from Washington’s legal pot marketplace"

"Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"

"Pioneering women in cannabis industry losing ground, author says"

"Battling the racial roadblocks to joining the legalized marijuana trade"

"In politically charged D.C., cannabis is a cottage industry"

December 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Looking at the environmental impact of illegal marijuana cultivation and import of legalization

As my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is approaching its final class, a final set of students are scheduled to deliver presentations on the marijuana-related topics of their choosing.  One such student has decided to "focus on the environmental impact of illegal marijuana cultivation, and how/why legalization can mitigate these effects." 

Here are readings she has suggested as background on this topic:

5 Reasons Legalizing Pot Is Good for the Planet

Everything you need to know about pot's environmental impact on the planet

December 2, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Effective review of marijuana expungement prospects amidst nationwide state reforms

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91Stateline has this effective new piece on a topic that I have long thought should get even more attention as the marijuana reform movement continues to pick up steam.  The piece is headlined "In These States, Past Marijuana Crimes Can Go Away," and here is how the article starts and ends:

When Californians voted to legalize marijuana last year, they also voted to let people petition courts to reduce or hide convictions for past marijuana crimes. State residents can now petition courts to change some felonies to misdemeanors, change some misdemeanors to infractions, and wipe away convictions for possessing or growing small amounts of the drug. “We call it reparative justice: repairing the harms caused by the war on drugs,” says Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped write the California ballot initiative.

Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon also have made it easier for people convicted of some crimes of marijuana possession, cultivation or manufacture to get their records sealed or expunged, which generally means removing convictions from public databases. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a criminal justice bill that would, among other changes, allow people to expunge any conviction that’s no longer a crime, such as marijuana possession.

These efforts by states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana are part of a national trend toward making it easier for people to seal or expunge a range of convictions. Americans with a criminal record — whether it’s marked with felonies, misdemeanors or both — can find it harder to get a job and find housing.

Hernandez and other social justice advocates say marijuana legalization should be paired with criminal justice reforms that help people convicted of past drug crimes rebuild their lives. Yet allowing people to seal their criminal records or reclassify convictions is not the rule in states that have legalized or decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Bills that would remove or reduce convictions on people’s records are often opposed by lawmakers and prosecutors who argue that people who knowingly violated prior laws shouldn’t be let off the hook just because the law changed.

California has done more than any other state to require judges to excuse residents’ past marijuana crimes. That’s because the state took the issue to voters, Hernandez said. “Through the Legislature, we would not have gotten this.”...

Defense lawyers and other advocates for decreasing penalties for nonviolent drug crimes say that sealing someone’s record can change their life. Yet state data from Oregon and California — the states that have done the most to allow people to take convictions off their records — suggest that so far, only a fraction of people with marijuana convictions have asked to get them sealed or set aside.

Nearly half a million people were arrested for marijuana crimes in California over the past decade, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. But California courts have received just 1,506 applications for reclassifying past marijuana-related crimes since state residents gained the option to do so last year. The Drug Policy Alliance also says that more than 78,000 convictions could be set aside in Oregon. But courts received just 388 requests for set-asides in cases that involved a marijuana charge in 2015, 453 in 2016, and 365 so far this year, according to the Oregon Judicial Department.

It could be that many people just don’t know they can get their records sealed. Marijuana industry and legal defense groups have hosted free events in both states to help people file the right paperwork — though in both states, lawyers say filing a petition is straightforward enough to handle without an attorney.

Another problem may be that many people have complicated criminal records, Margolis said. “Those people — they have not benefited.” Courts are more likely to reject petitions from people with long criminal histories, Margolis said. For instance, someone’s conviction for marijuana cultivation might be paired with a money-laundering conviction, a delivery conviction, or a criminal-mischief conviction because a house was vandalized.

Some people may just decide that hiding their conviction from view isn’t worth the hassle. If someone has another crime on his record that can’t be wiped away, say an unrelated felony, he might not bother to eliminate a minor marijuana conviction. One of the convictions that can be sealed in Colorado and California is possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. But in both states, even before marijuana possession was legalized, possession of a small amount of marijuana was just an infraction or a petty offense, punishable by a $100 fine.

Still, the California ballot initiative’s emphasis on criminal justice reform and releasing people from the burden of past crimes may be the new normal moving forward. The initiative has become “the gold standard,” said Art Way, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office. He said that activists in New Mexico, New Jersey and New York are all lobbying for racial justice and, to some extent, retroactive relief for marijuana crimes.

November 21, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Examining "The Temperance Movement and Its Relevance on Today’s Marijuana Policy"

My students know that I strongly believe legal and social histories are critical topics for anyone and everyone interested in any aspect of criminal justice reform. (I always find astute the William Faulkner quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past.") Consequently, I am especially excited that one of my students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is making his presentations this week on "The Temperance Movement and Its Relevance on Today’s Marijuana Policy." Here are some of the major sources that the student working on this topic has provided for class consideration:

Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Jack S. Blocker, Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation

Harry G. Levine & Craig Reinarman, Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy

David F. Musto, The American Experience with Stimulants and Opiates (previous class material that everyone already read)

November 15, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

AG Sessions indicates that Obama-era federal marijuana policies remain in effect

Just a short five years ago it would have been unusual for a member of Congress to ask the US Attorney General about federal marijuana policies.  But circa 2017 it now seems near impossible to have a congressional hearing involving the AG in which marijuana policy is not raised.  But, as detailed in this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell headlined "Sessions: Obama Marijuana Policy Remains In Effect," AG Sessions did not really have much new to say on this front during a hearing on Capitol Hill today:

Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

"Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes," Sessions said, referring to his predecessors as attorney general during the Obama administration.

Sessions made the comments in response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.   Later, Sessions said, "I think that's correct," when Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) argued that cannabis isn't as dangerous as heroin.  Under current federal law, both are classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category that's supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value....

Also during Cohen's line of questioning, the attorney general said, "I believe we are bound by" a federal budget rider that bars the federal government from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws.  A federal court ruled last year, over Justice Department objections, that the rider specifically bars prosecution of patients and providers who are acting in accordance with those laws.  Earlier this year, Sessions, sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that they not continue the annual rider into the next fiscal year.

Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, has previously said that the separate Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes, but has not before so clearly tied the Trump administration approach to that of his predecessors....

[I]n April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration memo and make recommendations for possible changes. However, that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force’s report to the attorney general. Sessions did not refer to any ongoing consideration of enforcement policy changes during the House hearing.

During a Senate hearing last month, the attorney general said that allowing more researchers to legally grow more marijuana for scientific studies would be "healthy."  He has yet to respond to pending written questions stemming from that hearing about a federal budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

November 14, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 13, 2017

"Helping Settle the Marijuana and Alcohol Debate: Evidence from Scanner Data"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new empirical article authored by Michele Baggio, Alberto Chong and Sungoh Kwon now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract (with the key finding emphasized):

We use data on purchases of alcoholic beverages in grocery, convenience, drug, or mass distribution stores in US counties for 2006-2015 to study the link between medical marijuana laws and alcohol consumption and focus on settling the debate between the substitutability or complementarity between marijuana and alcohol. To do this we exploit the differences in the timing of the of marijuana laws among states and find that these two substances are substitutes. Counties located in MML states reduced monthly alcohol sales by 15 percent. Our findings are robust to border counties analysis, a placebo effective dates for MMLs in the treated states, and falsification tests using sales of pens and pencils.

November 13, 2017 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Constitutional Clause Aggregation and the Marijuana Crimes"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Scott Howe now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

An important question for our time concerns whether the Constitution could establish a right to engage in certain marijuana-related activities.  Several states have now legalized cannabis, within strict limits, for recreational purposes, and that number will grow.   Yet, some states will not promptly legalize but, instead, continue to criminalize, or only “decriminalize” in minor ways, and the federal criminalization statutes also will likely survive for a time.   There currently is no recognized right under the Constitution to possess, use, cultivate or distribute cannabis for recreational purposes, even in small amounts, and traditional, single-clause arguments for such a right are weak.   Neither the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the Fourth Amendment, the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause can justify such a protection, and that would remain true even when most states have legalized.  But, could another theory justify this constitutional right?

A second important and topical legal question concerns when two or more rights-based clauses in the Constitution can combine to invalidate government action that none of the clauses could disallow on their own.  The Supreme Court generally has declined to recognize multiple-clause rights.  But, in the past, it occasionally seemed to endorse the approach. And, recently, in Obergefell v Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015), it gave new impetus to the idea by declaring the existence of a “synergy” between the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses that it asserted had helped explain its acknowledgment of certain rights previously and that purportedly helped lead, in the case at hand, to its acknowledgment of a right to same-sex marriage.  In consequence, enthusiasm has again intensified over the notion that rights-based clause aggregation can expand constitutional protections.  But, is clause aggregation only rhetoric offered to justify something the Court would have done anyway under a single clause or can it sometimes really matter?   And, if so, when?

This Article puts both problems in play by asking this question: After a super-majority of states legalize, could multiple clauses together reveal a constitutional right to engage in certain recreational, marijuana activities?  The Article answers with cautious affirmance: Clause aggregation could help justify such a constitutional right, in tightly limited circumstances.  But, the Article also notes that many of the contours remain undeveloped in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on rights-based clause aggregation, complicating any effort to predict whether and how the Justices would apply it in the future to recreational marijuana.

November 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Can Los Angeles repair the damage done by the war on marijuana?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Los Angeles Times editorial.  Here are excerpts:

Make no mistake, the war on marijuana has not been colorblind. Despite national surveys showing that white people and black people use marijuana at approximately the same rates, blacks have over the years been nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.

That disparity is as true in Los Angeles as it is elsewhere in the country. African Americans comprise less than 10% of the population in L.A. Yet between 2000 and 2017, blacks represented 40% of marijuana-related arrests.  Latinos made up 44% of arrests.  Whites made up only 16% of arrests, according to a city consultant’s analysis of Los Angeles Police Department data.  And even as Los Angeles and other cities allowed the growth of a quasi-legal, hugely profitable medical marijuana industry run mostly by white entrepreneurs, police arrests for marijuana possession and sales continued to target African Americans and Latinos overwhelmingly.

A drug arrest — especially if followed by a conviction — can have terrible consequences.  Even after a person has completed his or her sentence, it remains harder to get a job, get into college, rent an apartment or get a loan.  A drug conviction is a barrier to economic opportunity.

Now that California has voted to legalize marijuana for adults, a crucial question is whether there a way to repair the damage created by decades of unequal enforcement practices.  The answer being considered by the Los Angeles City Council is to make it easier for people who were arrested or otherwise affected by the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws to get in on the ground floor of the emerging multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

The idea behind the proposed “social equity” program is that the people most affected should now be helped to partake in the profits and benefits of legalization.  The challenges of opening a marijuana business are so great — there are huge upfront costs, serious impediments to getting bank loans and extremely intricate regulations — that many would-be entrepreneurs would be locked out without government assistance.

Without question, Los Angeles ought to use a portion of future marijuana tax revenue to help communities that have been disproportionately targeted for marijuana enforcement. Tax money could fund drug education and treatment, legal clinics to help people expunge their marijuana conviction records, and reentry programs for individuals leaving prison.

The city could also help encourage entrepreneurs from communities that have had disproportionate numbers of marijuana arrests to enter the business by offering training, compliance assistance and priority licensing. Priority licensing is important because, due to zoning restrictions, only a limited number of applicants will ultimately be granted the right to host a marijuana business.  The first batch of licenses will be offered to medical marijuana shops that have operated since 2013 in L.A. with limited immunity under Proposition D.  Under the city’s proposed rules, the second batch of licenses would be divided equally between general applicants and social equity applicants — giving the latter a better shot at snapping up those opportunities. The third batch of licenses would be open to all applicants.

But here’s where the social equity program raises concern: The current proposal gives special advantages, waives fees and offers the most assistance to low-income people who themselves have marijuana-related convictions.  It’s one thing to target assistance broadly to communities that have felt the impacts of unequal enforcement. It’s another thing to reward people who broke the law and got caught by giving them priority over people who did not break the law.  That doesn’t seem fair.  Nor does it seem like a great idea to incentivize people with convictions for selling or possessing marijuana to return to the drug trade — why not help them enter other businesses instead?

To be sure, people with nonviolent drug convictions shouldn’t be barred from owning marijuana businesses or from working in them.  But they shouldn’t be pushed to the front of the line either.

November 4, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"New developments in cannabis regulation"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper commissioned by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction authored by authored by Beau Kilmer. Here is the paper's introduction:

For decades, those seeking insights into alternatives to prohibiting cannabis supply have turned to Europe.  For nearly 40 years, the Netherlands has tolerated small retail sales, and in February 2017 the Dutch Parliament narrowly passed a bill to regulate the supply of cannabis to coffee shops.  Spain’s cannabis social clubs (CSCs), which are supposed to produce cannabis for non-profit distribution to club members, have proliferated throughout the country despite some of them being forced to shut down.  Similar CSCs are now appearing in other parts of Europe (Decorte, 2015; Belackova et al., 2016; EMCDDA, 2016).

For the past five years, however, many of those searching for new developments in cannabis regulation have turned their attention to the Western Hemisphere.  In 2012, voters in the US states of Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives to remove the prohibition on cannabis and to license profit-maximising firms to produce and sell it.  In late 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise cannabis, although its approach is much more restrictive than that being adopted in the United States.  Since 2016, four more US states have approved commercial models for cannabis — including California, the world’s sixth largest economy — and a bill to allow for-profit companies to produce cannabis for non-medical purposes has been introduced in Canada.

Recently, politicians in at least six European countries (in addition to the Netherlands) have introduced legislation to reform cannabis supply laws, with many proposing sales through licensed outlets (Hughes et al., 2017).  While most of these proposals have already been rejected (Hughes et al. 2017), conversations about cannabis regulation are expected to become more frequent and more detailed in Europe.  With this in mind, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has requested a brief report to address the following three questions:

• What new models of cannabis regulation are emerging worldwide and in Europe?

• What is the evidence about the impact of these reforms?

• What are the implications for drug policy and practice in Europe?

November 1, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Notable look at criminal justice footprint of marijuana prohibition in Virginia

May 21  2015This new local article, headlined "Virginia State Crime Commission briefed on marijuana decriminalization study, hears from public," reports on some new research and discussion of marijuana prohibition in the Old Dominion State.  Here are highlights:

In the 10-year period ending last year, there were 133,256 arrests in Virginia for possession of marijuana, 84 percent of them first-time offenses.  Nevertheless, relatively few people go to jail in the state solely for possession of marijuana, according to a study prompted by a proposal that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug for personal use.

The report by the staff of the Virginia State Crime Commission found that on July 20, there were 96 jail inmates awaiting trial for possession of marijuana and 31 serving jail time after conviction.  State figures show there were more than 29,000 people in Virginia’s jails that same day.

State crime commission members were briefed on the findings of the months-long study prior to taking mixed comment from 32 people at a hearing Monday. Under the proposal, possession of small amounts of marijuana would remain illegal but would become a civil offense, instead of a criminal one.

“We are here to talk about decriminalization, not legalization,” said state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, to those in attendance. Norment, a member of the crime commission, helped prompt the study out of concerns about the collateral consequences of such convictions.  Colin L. Drabert, senior staff attorney for the commission, outlined some of those ramifications, which can include effects on employment, federal higher education aid, housing, immigration status, the ability to purchase or transport a firearm, and child custody.

Roy Scherer, who has long lobbied for the reform of the state’s marijuana laws, was one of the first speakers. “I’d like to congratulate you. The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is only 45 years old. So Virginia is catching up,” he told the commission.  A representative of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws thanked the commission for considering the matter and said none of the states that have decriminalized have reversed course, showing the move is effective.

Two other early speakers strongly opposed the proposal, with one likening it to opening Pandora’s box. Another speaker said decriminalization would reduce the perception of harm the drug represents. “Marijuana is still an addictive, harmful drug. ... Please protect our youth,” she said.

A representative of the American Automobile Association told the commission that the organization does not have a position on the bill, but she urged legislators to carefully consider the possible impact on traffic safety.

The report found that 30 states have criminal penalties for possession; eight states and the District of Columbia allow for legal recreational use; seven states have civil or other noncriminal penalties; and five states have blended civil and criminal penalties.

In Virginia, the law does not specify an amount of marijuana to be considered for personal use, as opposed to amounts that could be construed as possession with the intent to distribute.  A first conviction can result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.  A defendant’s driver’s license is revoked for six months if convicted or if a judge defers deciding the matter.  Roughly half of first-time offenders charged are convicted, and of that number the great majority serve no jail sentence....

 

Drabert reported that the crime commission’s staff has received nearly 4,000 written comments from the public regarding the proposal, with 3,743 supporting decriminalization and 107 not supporting.  The staff will now consider the remarks as well as suggestions from commission members and make recommendations for the commission to consider at a future meeting.  Endorsement of legislation by the commission does not ensure passage of a bill, but it carries great weight in the legislature.

I believe the report reference in this article from the Virginia State Crime Commission is available at this link. There are some interesting case processing details in the slides of this report that folks outside of Virginia may want to look at.

October 31, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A few of the latest must-reads from Marijuana Moment

In this post a few weeks ago, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, had transform his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal."  That news portal, available here, is a must-read because of Tom's singular talent in tracking and reporting on various developments before other news organizations notice them.   In addition, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting and praising:

October 24, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"

Reaxspeech311488640x360This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.

“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”

Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.

September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"A Safer Way To Legalize Marijuana"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable extended commentary appearing at the Heath Affairs Blog authored by Rebecca Haffajee, Alex Liber, and Kenneth Warner. Here are excerpts:

Those crafting marijuana laws can draw upon lessons learned about the harms of combusted tobacco and the smoking control policies that followed. Given what we already know about the health hazards of combusted marijuana and the difficulty of controlling the sale of commercially established products, policy makers should capitalize on this opportunity to create a legal marijuana market that mitigates potentially significant harms associated with inhaling combusted marijuana while still facilitating desired benefits of recreational marijuana....

Combustible marijuana likely poses similar risks to those of combustible tobacco, while vaporizing or eating marijuana products offers a “cleaner” delivery mechanism. Why repeat the devastating public health harms of smoking tobacco when policy makers can reasonably mitigate similar consequences of smoking marijuana?...

In a recent comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that “smoked marijuana…is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances.” The report and other reviews found strong evidence linking combusted marijuana to increased risk for chronic bronchitis....

Edible and vaporized marijuana products offer the potential to deliver therapeutic and euphoric benefits of marijuana while avoiding cardiopulmonary-related harms of combustion. Although precise estimates of the decreased risks associated with this substitution are not available, by analogy the health risks for smokeless and vaporized tobacco products are estimated to be roughly 90 percent less than those of combusted tobacco.

Valid concerns have been raised about the potential health harms from commercially marketed edibles, especially their attractiveness to, accessibility by, and increasing exposure and overdoses among children. We strongly support prohibitions on the sale of marijuana products — including edibles — to minors, clearly labeling product THC content and requiring child-proof packaging. Additionally, if marijuana is only legally available for sale in forms that do not resemble cigarettes, children may be less likely to cross over between products....

Policy makers in jurisdictions considering legalization are not bound by custom to make available all forms of marijuana for recreational use. Little prior interstate commerce of legal marijuana products exists, and most states have yet to legalize recreational use. The environment is ripe to experiment with different types of markets, and entrepreneurial policy makers could embark on implementing a safer legal marijuana market that omits combustibles, based on our current and developing knowledge.

While uncertainty still exists regarding the relative harms of different marijuana products and robust research is warranted, waiting for perfect scientific consensus about the scope and nature of harms related to marijuana combustion is unwise. The evidence base around marijuana combustion harms is already strong, and growing. Arriving at total consensus will take decades — as it took to link cigarettes to lung cancer — and waiting to embark on an alternative, very likely safer policy regime has real costs, measured in disease and death. Permitting the sale of THC extracts for consumption in edible or vaporized form will neither compromise therapeutic nor euphoric benefits of recreational marijuana use. In addition, creating variation in recreational marijuana policy regimes — between those already enacted that permit marijuana combustion and those enacted in the future that don’t — would create natural experiments ripe to study the differential effects and quantify harms versus benefits. Policy makers in favor of legalization should seize the opportunity to design a new market that permits recreational sale of marijuana only in edible or vaporized form, to minimize the potential for the kind of disease burden associated with smoked tobacco.

September 10, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives takes on “The Marijuana Gateway Fallacy”

BC-weed-cover-792x1024Earlier this week, the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz released this notable discussion brief titled, “The Marijuana Gateway Fallacy.” This short report covers a lot of marijuana reform ground outside the arena of "gateway drug" discourse, but here is one passage from the report on that front highlighting that we still hear "gateway" talk from politicians on both sides of the political aisle: 

There are alternative explanations to the gateway hypothesis for why most users of dangerous drugs report the use of marijuana. The Common Liability Model posits that the use of multiple drugs reflects a common risk for drug use, rather than the use of one drug increasing the risk of using other. This may arise from common genetic predispositions, psychosocial factors, drug availability, and opportunity to use. Availability is linked to the age of an individual. Because of the relative ease of obtaining alcohol and marijuana in the home (compared with cocaine and heroin), youth interested in drug experimentation are likely to try these first.

In 2016, the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) — while not fully rejecting the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug—concluded that, given the evidence to date, “further research is needed to explore this question.” Shortly after NIDA released this determination, D.A.R.E. quietly removed marijuana from its publicized list of gateway drugs.

Yet, non-evidence-based political factors on both the left and the right remain the reason for the persistence of the gateway myth. In 2015, Chris Christie, New Jersey Governor and former Republican presidential candidate is quoted as saying, “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country, and we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement.”

In Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both Democrats, and Republican Governor Charlie Baker formed a coalition opposing legalization of recreational marijuana. Mayor Walsh said “You’ll hear the other side say that marijuana is not a gateway drug. If you know anyone in the recovery community, talk to them… You’ll hear that most of them, many of them started with marijuana.” Speaker DeLeo added that it would be hypocritical to support legalization of marijuana while fighting the opioid abuse epidemic. When talking about legalization of the medical use of marijuana in Florida, her state, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said about marijuana policy: “I just don’t think we should legalize more mind altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs.”

September 8, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Washington Gov and state AG respond forcefully to letter from AG Sessions about marijuana reform concerns

As noted in this prior post, a few weeks ago US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the leaders of states with recreational marijuana laws detailing troublesome data that, in the words of these letters, raised "serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures'."  An example of one such letter can be found here, addressed to Washington's Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Now, as detailed in this local article, headlined "Gov. and AG to Sessions: You are blowing smoke on our marijuana law," there has now been at least one forceful official response to these letters.  Here are the basics:

Allegations by Sessions, in a recent letter on Washington's marijuana policy, "are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information," the two state leaders wrote to Sessions. "We have twice requested an in-person meeting with you because we believe it will lead to better understanding than exchanging letters," Inslee and Ferguson wrote to the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday.

"If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us. " Inslee and Ferguson called for both a sit-down with Sessions, and "further appropriate meetings" between state and Dept of Justice officials....

Sessions, in his letter, stressed a 2016 Northwest Drug Trafficking Area report asserting that Washington marijuana has been diverted to "43 other states" and cites 17 explosions at THC extraction laboratories.

Inslee and Ferguson bluntly told Sessions he was blowing smoke. "Your letter fails to clearly acknowledge that this (43 state) statistic covers several years before our recreational sales even began, and reveals nothing about whether the sources of the marijuana were legal or illegal," they wrote. "Again, your intent is for our state-regulated marijuana market to displace and destroy illegal marijuana activity. "

Sessions made charges that Washington's medical marijuana market is "considered 'grey' due to lack of regulation and oversight." Inslee and Ferguson acknowledged that medical marijuana "was not well regulated or supervised" in Washington. Shortly before the 2016 report came out, however, the Legislature passed reform legislation.

"We realigned medical marijuana to bring it within the state's far more stringent recreational system," wrote the Governor and AG. In fact, they told Sessions, a subsequent 2017 report by the feds made clear that "as of July 1, 2016, the long-standing illegally operating dispensaries were shut down or became licensed retailers; sales are now subject to taxation and medical marijuana products now must pass strict packaging and testing requirements before being sold to patients." "Your letter, relying on the old . . . report, ignores this important development."...

"We encourage you to keep in mind why we are having this conversation," Inslee and Ferguson told Sessions. "State and federal prohibition of marijuana failed to prevent its widespread use, which was generating huge profits for violent criminal organizations. "The people of Washington State chose by popular vote to try a different path. Under Washington's system, responsible adults are allowed access to a highly regulated product that returns substantial tax revenues to the government even as it displaces illegal activity."

The full letter from Gov Inslee and state AG Ferguson can be found at this link, and I like that the letter included a request to discuss additional matters with federal officials including:

  • Whether DOJ will support reasonable federal policies allowing financial institutions to provide service to licensed marijuana businesses, in order to avoid the public safety risks and transparency problems associated with all-cash businesses. 

  • How state-regulated marijuana should be treated by the federal government following the President’s declaration that the opioid crisis constitutes a national emergency, and whether the federal government will support objective, independent research into the effects of marijuana law reform on opioid use and abuse.

August 16, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"What Jeff Sessions is getting wrong about legal weed"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new CNBC commentary authored by Gina Belafonte, Chris Leavy and Lindy Snider. Here are excerpts:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010 there were 8.2 million marijuana related arrests in the county, nearly 90 percent of them were for possession. African Americans were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana two decades ago, 28 others and the District of Columbia have followed suit. Eight states have also legalized adult use. We now have a track record of legal, regulated marijuana in more than half of the country, and clear evidence that it is a better approach than a blanket prohibition and harsh prison sentences for those who use it or participate in its commerce.

A 2014 study from the University of Texas, Dallas using FBI's crime data showed no rise in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization, and even some evidence of decreasing rates of homicide and assault. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, and overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent in the same period while Washington, which legalized recreational use in 2012, saw violent crime rates drop by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014.

The history of the War on Drugs is also a history of the economic and social disparities in our country. Black and brown men are disproportionally incarcerated under our current drug laws, and because mass incarceration breaks up families and severely limits ex-convicts' employment and business opportunities, the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the poverty rate in minority communities....

To be sure, the War on Drugs is a much bigger and more complex issue than marijuana legalization alone, but it is a good place to start. State legal cannabis is now a $6 billion industry that employs 150,000 people and is on track to create more jobs than the manufacturing sector by 2020.

It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue; California alone is forecasting $1 billion annually. Two decades of state legal marijuana also has shaped public opinion, with record numbers of Americans now supporting legalization. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows 94 percent of U.S. voters support medical marijuana programs, and 60 percent favor full legalization.

In today's divided politics, few issues command such unanimous support. Medical marijuana is legal both in red and blue states. The first ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus, announced earlier this year, is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. And in the cannabis industry social justice and business interests are often aligned, with advocates and entrepreneurs standing shoulder to shoulder against reactionary policies such as the ones proposed by Mr. Sessions.

If he has his way on marijuana, Mr. Sessions threatens to turn back the clock on two decades of painstakingly gained progress, bringing us back to the days of overflowing prisons, disenfranchised communities and a $50 billion black market for cannabis run by drug cartels. We must not allow that to happen.

July 18, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Mapping medical marijuana: State laws regulating patients, product safety, supply chains and dispensaries, 2017"

CoverThe title of this post is the title of this useful new article in the publication Addiction authored by numerous researchers.  Here is the article's abstract:

Aims

1) To describe open source legal datasets, created for research use, that capture the key provisions of U.S. state medical marijuana laws. The data document how state lawmakers have regulated a medicine that remains, under federal law, a Schedule I illegal drug with no legitimate medical use. 2) To demonstrate the variability that exists across states in rules governing patient access, product safety, and dispensary practice.

Methods

Two legal researchers collected and coded state laws governing marijuana patients, product safety, and dispensaries in effect on February 1, 2017, creating three empirical legal datasets. We used summary tables to identify the variation in specific statutory provisions specified in each state's medical marijuana law as it existed on February 1, 2017. We compared aspects of these laws to the traditional Federal approach to regulating medicine. Full datasets, codebooks and protocols are available through the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System (http://www.pdaps.org/ ; http://www.webcitation.org/6qv5CZNaZ).

Results

Twenty-eight states (including the District of Columbia) have authorized medical marijuana. Twenty-seven specify qualifying diseases, which differ across states. All but two protect patient privacy; only 14 protect patients against discrimination. Eighteen states have mandatory product safety testing before any sale. While the majority have package/label regulations, states have a wide range of specific requirements. Most regulate dispensaries (25 states), with considerable variation in specific provisions such as permitted product supply sources (23 states), number of dispensaries per state (18 states) and restricting proximity to various types of location (21 states).

Conclusions

The federal ban in the USA on marijuana has resulted in a patchwork of regulatory strategies that are not uniformly consistent with the approach usually taken by the Federal government and whose effectiveness remains unknown.

July 12, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)